HOW TO TALK ABOUT YOUR ESTATE PLAN WITH FAMILY
How to Talk About Estate Planning
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It’s a subject few people want to discuss and yet it’s extremely important and beneficial: talking about your estate plan with your family before something happens. Have you ever known someone who has torn the house apart looking for a will when a loved one passes because they didn't know if the deceased had written a will, what it said, or even where it was? Or a family who suffers from division, hurt feelings, and stress because what was in a parent's will was a surprise? It happens more often than you might think.
If you have this “talk” approaching and you’re concerned about the situation growing tense or uncomfortable, keep these thoughts in mind:
What else can be done to make the experience more comfortable and helpful to you and your family?
Acknowledge the Inevitable
The topic is understandably sensitive, and some might imagine it to be emotional and uncomfortable. You and your loved ones obviously don’t want to think about you passing away. Plus, people often feel awkward talking about money – even among family members.
However, estate plans are created for the benefit and well-being of the people you love and who love you back.
Discussing the estate plan prepares everyone involved for what’s to come. Sitting down with beneficiaries provides a clear understanding of how they’ll be impacted by your will and other estate plan decisions. It also helps if everyone knows who your personal representative is, so they know who to go to with questions and so that person knows that he or she has been given this responsibility.
Share the Information Your Family Will Need to Manage
The question often arises, “Who should I share my estate plan details with? When? And how?”
People also often wonder whether they should meet with each heir one-on-one, or bring every heir into the room.
Whether you meet privately or as a group, consider being as transparent as possible, by sharing clear legacy information and details while keeping the door open for questions and honest conversation.
Why? Because, for example, if one of your adult children assumes you plan on leaving the family business to them, or another is expecting to inherit the family home, it only seems fair to discuss your plans with them, especially if their assumptions are incorrect, so that they can be better prepared for their inheritance when it comes. Or you may have specific reasons for naming one of your children as personal representative instead of the other- better to talk about it now than have hurt feelings or misunderstanding after you are gone, while your children are already in a stressful and sad situation.
There are also plenty of other things that are likely not controversial, but important for your family to know ahead of time. Remember that if something happens to you- either death or a sudden illness or accident that leaves you unable to communicate or make decisions for any period of time- your family will already be under tremendous stress and grief, and you should try to make it as easy for them as you can. These include:
You may also want to have a separate conversation with the individuals designated as your personal representative, health care proxy, and durable power of attorney. Massachusetts does not recognize specific advance health care directives as legally binding- instead, you designate a person you trust to make the decision for you. If you have strong opinions about what kind of medical care you do and do not want, it is helpful to make sure the person you have designated as your health care proxy knows what those wishes and opinions are. In the same way, you could benefit from making sure the person who holds your power of attorney understands how you would like certain things to be handled if you are incapacitated.
Keep Your Focus on Family
Once you focus on the relationship between you and your family members, it’s often easier to keep sight on what’s most important — family! — while leading the discussion.
To encourage the spirit of positivity and goodwill among heirs, determine how your decisions will impact everyone individually. Be empathetic and compassionate by looking at your decision from multiple perspectives.
For example, if you leave one granddaughter a trust but leave another grandchild her full inheritance, your family will naturally wonder why. Often, decisions are extremely practical and beneficial, but it’s not always interpreted as intended.
You probably also have stories to relate that can help your family think about this issue. For example, you may have a specific experience- positive or negative- with how your own parents or grandparents set up their estate plan, and how that impacted you when they passed. Show your family that you know this is part of life, that you have been through it too, and that you are trying to make things as easy as possible for them when the inevitable occurs, hopefully a long way in the future.
Talking with your family about your estate plan isn’t always clear cut or easy, but it’s a vital step in your wealth legacy journey. Want to know more about estate planning? Click here to get your free book, "What You Need to Know About Estate Planning."
slnlaw is a law firm in Sharon Massachusetts providing business, employment law and estate planning services to individuals and small businesses